Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: Blubber

Image result for blubber blumeI was perusing the books at Deseret Industries and came upon a book by an author I remember enjoying as a child. Judy Blume, ever heard of her? In particular, I remember reading “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” and the “Fudge” books that followed. “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” and “Freckle Juice” were fun to read as well. 
 So when I saw “Blubber”, by Judy Blume, on the shelf for .50 I promptly put it in my cart thinking Sydney would like reading it. The setting is 5th grade, Syd’s grade next year, and judging from the back cover, the book is about a little bit of bullying. That’s a topic all children should know about and I thought this would be a good jumping-off point for some timely discussions.

Luckily, I read the book myself first. Call me na├»ve, and you’re welcome, but I was not prepared for the harshness of the text. The reviews on the back cover describe the story as “entertaining”, “An inside look at how obnoxious some well-to-do, suburban, fifth grade children can be”, and “a good family story as well as a school story”. The type of bullying I read in this book I would never describe as entertaining, obnoxious or a good family story.

The story is told from Jill’s perspective. She seems to be your typical 10 or 11 year old. She joins Wendy, the ring-leader of several students, in bullying Linda. A slightly over-weight girl who doesn’t seem to have any friends. I just couldn’t believe the cruelty of the girls’ actions against Linda. It went way beyond name-calling and pushing. Most of the bullying was pre-conceived and well-thought out by Wendy and supported the rest of the class. It was almost too much for me, as an adult, to read. Maybe I’m a softee, but yuck. I kept thinking this has to get better. There has to be a refuge for her or a friend or sympathetic adult, at least. But the adults and teachers were all completely clueless and unsympathetic. When the tables turn and Jill is the target, the most sympathetic thing she hears is from her mother who says, “It’s rough to be on the other side, isn’t it?” There is also some language from Jill and quite a bit of cigarette smoking by her mother.

“Blubber” was published in 1974 and times have changed. I think we have more of a “no tolerance” philosophy after some of the school violence episodes we’ve seen unfold. I was just totally unprepared for what I read. There was no cushion. It was all raw realism. Perhaps that’s what Judy Blume is known for. I just didn’t remember any of that rawness in her other books. 

So I guess my final thoughts are, I’m not going to suggest that Sydney read this book. I think it would worry her. It would be a good jumping off point for a discussion on bullying, but I’m not sure now is the time. And one other thing is for sure, I think I’ll keep reading the books she is reading. I’ve always thought this was a good idea, but now I’m quite certain. Not that I’ll censor what she reads, but I would like to be able to discuss it with her. Especially important topics like bullying.

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